While Omega Pharma-Lotto has come under fire for its lacklustre start to the season, Omega Pharma-Lotto rider Mario Aerts has backed the Belgian squad and its star Classics rider, Philippe Gilbert, to perform well in today's Flèche Wallonne.
The 35-year-old, who won the event in 2002 and was the last Belgian to take the title, believes Gilbert can add to his brilliant Amstel Gold Race victory and Jurgen Van den Broeck could be a factor in the race's finale, answering those who have criticised the team for its lack of results thus far in 2010.
Aerts said he's in good condition this season and is confident he can a play a role in getting the team's star riders to the finale. "I can do my work for the leaders - Gilbert and Van den Broeck - and try to get them in the best condition to contest the final," he told Sporza before admitting, "Personally, though, I can't ride the finale."
It comes after comments from Van den Broeck on the same website, indicating that the talented Belgian could be given free rein to go for the win later today. "I hope I'll be there in the final of La Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège, and hopefully our team can win one of those races," Van den Broeck told Sporza. "I feel good. The courses of those races suit me better than Amstel."
It also follows former teammate Cadel Evans' assertion that Gilbert is the man to watch in the event after taking the Amstel Gold crown last Sunday. The world champion told Cyclingnews: "I'm a big Philippe Gilbert fan. I like him. He's a good guy and loves racing his bike too. That's refreshing." Needless to say the prospect of a Belgian adding his name to the race's palmares for the first time in eight years has the local media excited, too.
As for his own history at the event, Aerts was reminiscent. "The Flèche Wallonne remains a special course for me," he explained. "That victory was a beautiful moment."
The following season Aerts switched teams, moving to German squad T-Mobile before returning to the Lotto fold in 2005. "I thought my best years were still to come, but it didn't matter anymore. I switched to Telekom, where I was pushed into a helper's role; maybe that was not my best decision. I was actually better off staying at Lotto," the Belgian explained.